Q: Would you talk about how the Judas figures you depict in your pastel paintings function in Mexico?
A: Here’s a good explanation from a website called “Mexican Folk Art Guide”:
“La quema de Judas or the Judas burning in Mexico is a celebration held on Sabado de Gloria (Holy Saturday). Papier mache figures symbolizing Judas Iscariot stuffed with fireworks are exploded in local plazas in front of cheerful spectators.
The Judases exploded in public spaces can measure up to 5 meters, while 30 cm ones can be found with a firework in their back to explode at home.
In Mexico la quema de Judas dates from the beginning of the Spanish colony when the Judas effigies were made with hay and rags and burned. Later as paper became available and the fireworks techniques arrived, thanks to the Spanish commerce route from the Philippines, the Judases were made out of cardboard, stuffed with fireworks, and exploded.
After the Independence War the celebration lost its religious character and became a secular activity. The Judas effigies were stuffed with candies, bread, and cigarettes to attract the crowds into the business [establishment] that sponsored the Judas.
Judas was then depicted as a devil and identified with a corrupt official, or any character that would harm people. In 1849 a new law stipulated that it was forbidden to relate a Judas effigy with any person by putting a name on it or dressing it in a certain way to be identified with a particular person.”
This is why whenever I bring home a Judas figure from Mexico, I feel like I have rescued it from a fire-y death!
Comments are welcome!
A: Today is a day off to let my fingers heal. When I start a new painting, I need to rub my fingers against raw sandpaper in order to blend the pastel. With each layer the tooth of the paper gets filled up and becomes smooth, but until then my fingers suffer. Here is what I’ve been working on.
This pastel-on-sandpaper painting is an experiment, an attempt to push myself to work with bigger and bolder imagery. The photograph clipped to the easel is one of my favorites. It depicts a Judas that Bryan and I found in a dusty shop in Oaxaca. Among the Mexican and Guatemalan folk art pieces that I’ve collected are five papier mâché Judases. This particular one is unusual because it has a cat’s head attached at the forehead (the purple shape in the painting). They are not made to last. In some Mexican towns large Judases are hung from church steeples, loaded with fireworks, and burned in effigy. This takes place at 10:00 a.m. on the Saturday morning before Easter. Mexico is primarily a Catholic nation, of course, so effigy burning is done as symbolic revenge against Judas for his betrayal of Christ. The Judas in the photo is small and meant for private burning by a family (rather than in public at a church) so by bringing it back to New York I rescued it from a fire-y death! In sympathy with Mexican tradition, I began this painting last Saturday (the day before Easter) at 10 a.m.
Comments are welcome!